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Dam 4

  • 2
  • September 05, 2014

The Power of Water

By Ranger Curt

As an avid biker, I spend a lot of time on the towpath. In doing so, I often find myself looking out on the Potomac River. Most times of the year and in most places along the canal, the river looks serene and its waters seem to be barely moving. However, as I approach Dam #4 heading upstream from Taylors Landing, I can truly feel its power. The roar of the water over Dam #4 fills the air, and even sends a vibration through the ground. It fills not only the water, but also me, with energy. I get an adrenalin rush every time.

The seven dams on the Potomac River were originally built to divert water into the canal. Dam #4 provided water for 22 miles of the canal, from Milepost 84.6 downstream to Milepost 62.3, just above Harpers Ferry. The water was regulated at the guard lock at Dam #4 to maintain a consistent level of water traveling at two miles per hour down the canal prism.

For the past hundred years Dam #4 has also been capturing the water's power at a facility on the West Virginia side of the river. This hydro-electric gravity dam, built in 1913 and modified in 1994, is 20 feet tall and approximately 800 feet across. It uses a drive belt to transfer power from the river to the turbines. They in turn provide electric power to people in Washington County. True water power!

In 2012, repairs to the Big Slackwater section of the towpath will be completed and visitors will have the opportunity to approach Dam #4 not only from the east, but also from McMahon's Mill and points west. With the completion of this project more visitors will have the chance to experience the Dam #4 rush. Feel the power.